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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

Chapter Two
MEISHAN

IF you go up the Yangtse River, beyond Hankow, past the famous
gorges into the westernmost province of Szechuen, and further follow
the river past Chungking to its origins, you will come to a giant stone
Buddha, three hundred and sixty feet high, carved out of a mountain
cliff on the bank. Here at the western border of the province and at
the foot of the giant Omei Mountain, the highest in China, is Loshan,
called Kiachow in the days of Su Tungpo. At this point the Min River
flows into the Yangtse. The Min River, coming down from the north-
western mountains of the western aborigines, rushes down in a big and
deep torrent and, joining another river coming down from the Omei,
makes a straight dash for the Giant Stone Buddha of Loshan, where
the river then turns gradually south-east and then east to flow directly
into the China Sea. Lying in the shadow of the eternally cloud-covered
peaks of the Omei, and some forty miles north of Loshan, is the town
of Meishan, in Meichow district, made famous in China's literary
history as the home of the most distinguished literary family in China,
This was the Su family, also known as the "Three Sus". The father
was Su Shim, who gave birth to two illustrious sons, Su Shih (Tungpo),
and Su Cheh (Tseyu). Together the father and sons account for three
of the "Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Sung Dynasties." * -
At Loshan, then as now, a traveller could go }ip the Polikiang, or
Glass River, in a junk to Meishan. The river received its name from
its colour, for it was a deep crystal blue in winter, while in summer the
torrents coming down from the mountains turned it into a murky
yellow. The river was a branch oŁ the Min River, and as Meishan lay
halfway between Loshan and the capital of the province, Chengtu,
travellers who wanted to go to the capital had to pass through the
town. You yrould go up in the junk until you saw the Moyishan, or
Frog's Jowl Hill, standing directly over the stream. It was a low, round
hill like those we see around Kiangsu. Here was Meishan, the home
town of the Sus. Thanks to the engineering genius of Li Ping, who
lived at the end of the third century B.C., there was a perfect water
control and irrigation system, maintained and kept working for over a
thousand years; it made this whole region of western Szechuen into a
perennially fertile plain, free from floods. The little hill stood against'
a vast plain of rice-fields, orchards, and vegetable gardens, dotted here
and there with bamboo groves and curiously dwarfed palm trees. You

* Of these eight masters, six are important figures in this book. Besides the
"three Sus," the other three are Wang Anshih, Ouyang Shiu, and Tseng Kung.